The Chhattisgarh National Tribal Dance Festival at Raipur showed the uninhibited lifestyle of tribal groups
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
On the occasion of the 21st anniversary of the Chhattisgarh State Formation Day, the Culture Department hosted the National Tribal Dance Festival in Raipur on November 1, 2 and 3. The tribal dance troupes were invited from different parts of India, and there were also foreign tribal dance troupes from Russia, Mongolia, and Egypt. The event was well conceived because Chhattisgarh and neighbouring Jharkhand, were formed with the intention of recognising the fact that the majority of the people in these two states belonged to the tribal population, officially designated as Scheduled Tribes. While Chhattisgarh was carved out from Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand was separated from Bihar. A significant aspect of Chhattisgarh is that it is a state rich in minerals well as forests. The tribal population is the reason that there is abundance of forests because the tribes live in harmony with the forests around them. Their life rhythms expressed through their dance are a reflection of the life they lead.
Organised at the spacious university grounds in the older part of Raipur, which had been nursed by the British since 1845 when they took over the administration, the National Tribal Dance Festival was open to the public, and there was a fair showcasing tribal handicrafts and textiles at the venue. As the state celebrated its formation day, people of Raipur as well as from the surrounding villages poured into the grounds, watched the dance performances, shopped and ate. It was picnic time for them. Interestingly, there was the official stage for the dance festival, and there was a jury of eminent culture and dance experts to adjudge the best troupe. There was also another informal stage where the troupes performed as the visitors paused and took pictures of the dancers with their phone cameras. The young people were clicking away pictures of the dances while at the same indulging in the now-universal pastime of taking selfies.
Most of us look at tribal dances with a certain fascination because of the colourful attire the dancers wear. We like the beat of the music which goes with the vigorous dancing. We appreciate the vitality in the dances. But what we miss is the meaning of those dances. The well-prepared comperes of Raipur explained in beautiful Hindi the context of each dance, and then you realised that the dance and song was part of the life events of the people. The comperes said that there is a dance and song celebrating and marking the major events of the lifecycle – birth, marriage, hunting, and death.
It seems that mainstream Hindi cinema learnt its lesson of dance and song from the tribal communities. As the comperes explained and as we watched the dances of different tribes from different states, we recognised how each was a celebration of important events in the lifecycle of the tribes. Whether from Kerala or Jharkhand, or from Gujarat and Arunachal Pradesh, each dance brought home the fact of birth and death, of the rhythm of hunting which also meant food and sustenance, and a struggle for survival between the man and the beast.
Most dances involved men and women, and it showed the uninhibited lifestyle of the tribal groups where there is no discrimination on the basis of sex. But when the dance depicted hunting, it was an all-men affair like those from Bastar in Chhattisgarh. Some of the pre-nuptial dances like those from Kerala and Kargil in Ladakh were all-women dances. But there were other marriage related dances that had both men and women prancing away.